Blue skies and refreshing breezes combine with the sounds of lakefront waves and eye-catching views of the skyline at these scenic alfresco spots.
From the riverfront to the rooftops — the only way to make Chicago dining even better is to take it outdoors. Take your pick of views with our guide to over 30 alfresco options or check out our dining blog Chicago Like a Local for other insider faves.
The epitome of casual elegance, NoMi Garden is a breezy, landscaped terrace nestled amongst Mag Mile skyscrapers on the seventh floor of the Park Hyatt Chicago. Oversized umbrellas offer shady respite, while the seasonally-crafted menu offers an array of refreshments — classics like ginger mint coolers, fresh salads, sushi platters, crab cakes, and charcuterie boards round out the light, summer fare.
Revel in the sunshine or see the skyline at sundown from atop terraces that come in all different heights. Dine on dim sum in luxury at Shanghai Terrace, the fourth floor oasis in the Peninsula Hotel Chicago that recreates a 1930s supper club, complete with authentic Cantonese cuisine and decadent cocktails.
From Terrace at Trump
you can see the iconic Wrigley Building clock tower up close in all its terra-cotta glory. Situated right at the bend of the Chicago River on the 16th floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, this sophisticated hotspot offers glitzy, unobstructed views of the waters and bridges below plus downtown skyscrapers all around.
Connected to beautiful Millennium Park just across the Nichols Bridgeway, Terzo Piano offers artful surroundings to enjoy the signature cuisine of Chef Tony Mantuano. The seasonal menus are Italian, with a modern focus — very fitting considering the terrace extends from the third floor of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Another Millennium Park option in the Loop, Tree House sits atop Tavern at the Park and overlooks bustling Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. From this third-floor rooftop perch, look across the way at the Chicago Cultural Center, as well as Cloud Gate and the Millennium Monument peeking through the trees.
The small balcony at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse may pale in size in comparison to the massive 23,000-square-foot, multi-level space inside, but the view from here is truly classic Chicago. Housed in a historic landmark theater, the restaurant kept the original Esquire Theater sign outside, which shines large and bright at night and is (almost!) close enough to touch when dining at one of the eight terrace tables.
Neighborhood favorites include Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy for their rustic small plates and cozy 45-seat rooftop deck, the sprawling veranda at Pegasus in Greektown with unobstructed views of downtown, and West Town's Homestead on the Roof, where you can literally watch your food grow with surroundings that include a 1,000 sq. ft. organic rooftop garden, two massive vertical hanging gardens, and dozens of planter boxes all filled with vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
Watch the boats cruise along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan as rays reflect off the gentle waters. Between the LaSalle Street and State Street bridges, downtown views from the river's edge are uniquely Chicago. You can spread out on spacious esplanades below street level at Dick's Last Resort and Bridge House Tavern or stay up top and dine in style at swanky steakhouses Smith & Wollensky or Chicago Cut.
Casual alfresco dining and fresh seafood selections are the specialty at Navy Pier's Riva Café. Less formal than its upstairs sibling Riva Crab House, the open air views and relaxing atmosphere are the perfect way to take in the evening Lake Michigan fireworks displays.
Caffé Oliva, the newest beachfront restaurant and bar, is a breezy Mediterranean-inspired gem nestled off Ohio Street Beach. The sandy oasis is named for its location near Olive Park and has both tables and cabanas to take in the picturesque views of Streeterville to the north and Navy Pier to the south And if you want to trek farther north for more beach action, kick back at its sister restaurant The Dock at Montrose Beach for everything from grass-fed burgers and seared tuna wraps served alongside live music.
And for the most laid back fun, beach wear is always welcome at Castaways Bar and Grill. Refuel with the full menu of grill standards and light summer fare and catch some sun from the upper patio deck of this massive boathouse on bustling North Avenue Beach.
Warm weather draws out the crowds, making a sidewalk seat the best way to feel like you're part of the city's summertime energy.The place to see and be seen, Tavern on Rush is a Gold Coast staple where locals and visitors rub elbows with politicians and celebrities. Competing for attention between the menu's steaks and chops is the lively street scene that takes over at the confluence of Rush, State and Bellevue.
Quartino, centrally located in River North, is a fantastic gathering space for couples and groups alike. If their charming bistro seating on the patio doesn't lure you in, maybe their motto will: "Where the wine is cheaper than water and the pizza is the finest."
Look out from the tasteful sidewalk patio at the Irish-owned restaurant The Gage and iconic Millennium Park dazzles from across the way. Behind the handsome facade of its historic building, the talented kitchen turns out upscale comfort food that is a long way from pub grub.
And don't miss any of the popular neighborhoods outside the central downtown. Lincoln Park is a great outdoor destination in itself, with the picturesque park, free public zoo and weekly Green City Market providing scenery just across the way from restaurant Perennial Virant. But an added reason to visit, beyond the quaint corner sidwalk seats, is for the garden fresh creations from Chef Paul Virant.
On the other sides of town, pass storefront galleries and independent shops and eateries to find the curbside seats at Lula Café in Logan Square. Here, eating local never tasted so good, and sitting outdoors among neighbors only heightens the dining experience and sense of community.
Dining on a patio can mean many things in Chicago: a hidden garden haven, a skinny pedestrian walkway, even a former mechanic's garage parking lot.
Combining street food, whiskey and the ultimate people watching scene, Big Star in Wicker Park takes taco takeout to a whole new level. Expect loud music and a good crowd to spill out from this utilitarian corner patio — and like at many outdoor destinations, plan to wait for a table.
At Piccolo Sogno, the glorious green garden is truly a "little dream" as its name suggests. Sheltered from the hustle and bustle of River West, it invites you to settle into quiet conversation and enjoy the rustic Italian menus and romantic scenery.
For "Cheese, Swine & Wine" look no farther than the Purple Pig, where the patio is set off just steps from the Mag Mile on an elevated walkway adorned with purple umbrellas and twinkling lights. A covered tent and heaters warm up guests when the temps cool.
Also downtown near Michigan Avenue, the roomy Plaza at Park Grill buzzes with energy, matching the vibrant scene of Millennium Park that surrounds it. What becomes an ice skating rink in the winter is the city's largest al fresco dining space in the warmer months, where visitors and locals sit beneath "the Bean" and dine on casual fare with Chicago flair.
On a peaceful little stretch of Halsted Street sits the stylish BOKA Restaurant. The idyllic Lincoln Park neighborhood makes a sophisticated setting for the modern cuisine of Chef Lee Wolen and the back and front patios are framed by lovely foliage and private fencing.